Doctor: Tennessee is ‘worst in the world’ for coronavirus transmission

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ICUs at 98% capacity; health department director says 'Our system is strained'

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WREG) — No country is more infectious than the U.S. and no state in the country is more infectious than Tennessee when it comes to COVID-19.

“Tennessee, as we speak, is the number one hot spot for transmission for the coronavirus in the entire world,” said Dr. Steve Threlkeld, infectious disease specialist with Baptist Hospital in Memphis.

“We’re not just high. We are the number one place in the world right now, in Tennessee, for coronavirus transmission. This is not a drill. We are the worst in the world.”

The total COVID-19 case count for Tennessee was 484,285 as of Wednesday. That is an increase of 11,410 cases since the day before.

There have been 5,668 deaths, an increase of 53 new deaths. There area 2,874 current hospitalizations and 411,843 inactive/recovered.

Shelby County on Thursday morning reported 1,163 new cases, a new daily record and the first time cases have topped 1,000 in a day.

COVID-19 Vaccines arriving today at Memphis hospitals. But will front-line workers take it?

Every day, more COVID patients are showing up at hospitals. There are nearly 2,900 of them in Tennessee alone.

Tuesday, the number of available ICU beds dropped below 170 statewide.

In Shelby County, only 11 ICU beds sat empty. The intensive care units across the Memphis area are at 98% capacity. 

It’s an issue health department director Alisa Haushalter was asked about during Wednesday’s county commission meeting.

“Our system is strained, and it’s not limited to the hospitals themselves, it’s also the ambulance services,” Haushalter said. “We need ambulances to transport people who have been victims of gunshot wounds, we need to transport people who have had heart attacks and strokes, and in a very timely manner.  If the emergency room is full, which is not represented in that data, the ambulance can’t offload that patient and then run for another patient.”

Memphis hospitals are currently treating more than 500 COVID patients. One hundred fifty-two of those patients are at Baptist Memphis and Baptist DeSoto.

Threlkeld is warning of a health care catastrophe if we don’t turn things around very soon.

“I cannot tell you how many people, it’s just all day long and into the night, I’m seeing people who are sick and some go into ICU and they say, ‘Well I’ve been good but we had this party the other night and ten people came to the house, and I didn’t feel good doing it, I feel it was probably the wrong thing to do,’” Threlkeld said. “And guess what — it was the wrong thing to do.

“This is so much more severe right now than it was when we were first dealing with this and closing things down, and the danger is so much larger and the vaccine is so close to bringing us relief from this that we really just need to practice common sense,” he continued. “If we can’t do that we’re going to find ourselves in a very difficult situation, more difficult.”

The first doses are expected to arrive in Shelby County on Thursday. They will go to hospitals to be given to front-line workers, but it will be some time before they are available to everyone.

Note: This story has been corrected to reflect the day the vaccine is expected to reach Shelby County hospitals.

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